Groups Appeal Federal Approval of Cove Point LNG Export Facility
FERC, the federal agency that gave final approval for a controversial expansion project at a gas plant in Lusby last September has denied requests from several environmental agencies that the plan be halted and reconsidered.
A 33-page summary was issued May 4 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denying the requests to halt the Dominion Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Plant exportation project. The commission authorized Dominion to construct and operated liquefaction facilities at the Cove Point plant, a project that will take three years to complete and cost $3.8 billion.
The groups identified by FERC as filing requests for a rehearing are Allegheny Defense Project and Wild Virginia, BP Energy Company, EarthReports Inc., Potomac Riverkeeper, Shenandoah Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna. Two of the groups, Alleghany and EarthReports, requested a stay of the order.
Among the environmental issues cited by the opposition seeking a rehearing were air emissions from the plant and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the Marcellus shale. Regarding the emission nitrogen oxide, FERC affirmed that Dominion’s detailed air dispersion modeling documented in the project’s environmental assessment demonstrates the impacts “will be below the Natural Ambient Air Quality standards which are set by the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] to be protective of human health and welfare.”
In regards to fracking, FERC reaffirmed that its September 29 order explained that future Marcellus shale production is not an essential predicate for the Cove Point Liquefaction project, which can receive natural gas through interconnections with three interstate natural gas pipeline systems. Further, development of the Marcellus shale region will likely continue regardless of whether the Cove Point Liquefaction project is approved.”
Regarding safety concerns expressed by project foes, FERC stated in their summary, “we find that the September 29 order and the environmental assessment independently analyzed potential safety impacts and that the order adequately explained our rationale for not performing a quantitative risk assessment.”
Groups Appeal Federal Approval of Cove Point LNG Export Facility
Lawsuit charges that regulators illegally ignored the project’s impact on fracking, climate change, and the Chesapeake Bay
Environmental groups sued the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) today over its decision to approve a massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal along the Chesapeake Bay in southern Maryland without conducting a rigorous environmental review.
The lawsuit, filed in the federal appeals court for the D.C. Circuit, charges that FERC circumvented the law by failing to consider how Dominion Resources’ $3.8 billion Cove Point project would trigger expanded fracking for natural gas in the Marcellus shale region, leading to significant new amounts of air, water and climate-disrupting pollution. Additionally, the groups contend that FERC failed to adequately consider the impact of foreign ships dumping dirty wastewater into the Chesapeake Bay. Earthjustice filed the suit today on behalf of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Patuxent Riverkeeper, and Sierra Club.
“After months of delay, we will finally get our day in court to challenge the fundamentally flawed approval of Dominion’s climate- and community-wrecking project,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Time and again, FERC has shown a blatant disregard for the health and safety of people and the climate and, we believe, the law. Tragically, FERC’s foot-dragging has allowed Dominion bulldozers to start construction before Calvert County residents had legal recourse to challenge the agency’s decision.”
For nearly seven months, FERC had delayed ruling on the groups’ request for a rehearing of its September 29 decision approving the project, even as the agency approved order after order allowing Dominion to begin construction. FERC finally rejected the groups’ rehearing motion on Monday, clearing the way for today’s legal challenge.
“With this order, FERC yet again has failed to fulfill its duty under federal environmental law,” said Jocelyn D’Ambrosio, senior associate attorney at Earthjustice. “Exporting nearly 1 billion cubic feet of LNG per day means more gas drilling, which wreaks havoc on both the climate and the communities scarred by wells and pipelines. We are asking the federal court to ensure that FERC evaluates the many ways that the Cove Point project will degrade the environment.”
“Exporting LNG will lead to more drilling—and more drilling means more fracking, more air and water pollution, and more climate-fueled weather disasters like record fires, droughts, and superstorms,” said Nathan Matthews, Sierra Club staff attorney. “FERC consistently fails to take the full impact of fracking into account when it considers whether to green light LNG exports, and it did so again in the case of Cove Point. For the sake of public health and our fragile climate we have no alternative but to challenge FERC’s incomplete environmental review in federal court.”
“The Dominion expansion at Cove Point has been given a green light by parties at the county, state and federal level regardless of and with little regard for the likely environmental impacts,” said Fred Tutman, Patuxent Riverkeeper. “The local environmental impacts have been dismissed even as the economic impacts have been largely distorted and inadequately explored. We now look to the courts to step in where our regulators have failed in order to safeguard our waterway and communities.”
The groups’ lawsuit centers on FERC’s unlawfully narrow Environmental Assessment. That review—challenged in over 150,000 citizen comments—omitted credible analysis of the project’s lifecycle global warming pollution, along with all the pollution associated with driving demand for upstream fracking and fracked gas infrastructure; its impact on water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and risk to the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale; and potentially catastrophic explosion and fire threat to hundreds of nearby residents.
View the petition filed in the federal appeals court for the D.C. Circuit (Case No. 15-1127): http://chesapeakeclimate.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Cove-Point-Petition-for-Review-as-Filed-2015-05-07.pdf
Margit Miller / Calvert Beacon